The Face at the End of the World
The boys gathered to see the end of the world.
It was a four hour walk from Kale’s house to the blighted lands. Uncle Jon had warned him about the creatures in the forests: treespiders, serpents, riverdemons. But Kale was now fourteen, a man, and he was not going let child’s tales stop him.
Uncle Jon and Kale’s father had traveled from one end of the world to the other, across all eleven realms over which eleven great wizards held dominion. Kale resolved to become a great explorer too, and as a boy he’d feasted on his uncle’s stories. Out of everywhere his uncle had traveled, he could say for sure that the world ended right here, in the blighted lands.
The boys could now say the same.
The pure lands ended at a cliff. Below, the blighted lands spread out in shades of red and pink. Close to the horizon a distant void cut them off like a swift blade. It outreached the highest mountains, the sky around it likewise blighted, higher than any airship could fly. An ancient gaze into eternity. It rippled and waves crashed like a great inland sea turned on its side.
The boys watched. Martin was the first to speak.
"It’s not here." He looked at Kale. "Well where is it?"
Kale had come here just once, on his thirteenth birthday, to mark his final year of boyhood. He had seen the face, but he couldn’t say where it was.
Still, Kale had to say something. He cleared his throat.
"You have to wait."
"I’ve been waiting."
"Yeah," said Clark, a boy Martin’s age. "We’ve been waiting."
"Then you can wait some more, right?"
"You made it up," Martin said. "Your damn uncle was no explorer."
"What about the swordsman?" Clark asked.
"Made up too. He just makes everything up."
The swordsman Ashton last stopped in the village about seven months ago, when he’d shown Kale his latest sword, a curved beauty from a land of sandstorms and colored snow.
"Is it made with spells?" Kale had asked.
"If only," Ashton had said, explaining that much skill had gone into the forging of this blade, but no magic. Only one spellforged sword called this lower realm home, and it was sleeping deep in the forest.
"I did not make it up," Kale said, thinking of the spellforged sword resting in the forest, waiting for a brave young man to wake it up. No, he had not made any of it up, not the swordsman, not his uncle’s travels --
Not the face, either.
Right as Martin was readying some response, the sort of remark that would earn any of them a clout on the ear but not the taxman’s little boy, David, the smallest of their group, pointed.
The face was forming. A woman’s voice boomed a call that echoed across the blighted lands, throaty like the dying calls of whales before they came crashing down from the sky. The face was grey, with long hair a darker shade of grey and a neck that broke off in uneven ends. Her eyes struggled to open against unseen seals. She bellowed again and out here at the end of the world other shapes rose up, castles, towers, warriors on horseback, flowers the size of mountains, spiders the size of whales, sketched and beautiful and fading fast like lost dreams.
None of the boys spoke. Not even Martin.
When the face faded and the void was calm once more, Martin turned to Kale, his face pale.
"Instructor Madsen’ll never believe us."
"Who said we need to tell him?"
"Our folks won’t either."
"It doesn’t matter who believes us," Kale said, echoing his uncle’s words. "It only matters what’s there."
Martin had no response to that. When he and Clark started back first, Kale lingered, looking into the void, thinking of the face, of the Masamune, of the wonders in waiting.